If you ever get the feeling that politicians and top Sir Humphreys don’t listen, well, confirmation is coming your way. A new study in the US suggests that junior bureaucrats certainly think that: it recorded that less than 1 in 10 think ‘leaders’ wanted to hear anything that might blow their preconceptions off course. A further quarter felt that 1 or 2 Sir Humphreys might have an ear cocked, but Minister’s never do. And about two thirds of respondents said the channels for sharing working practices weren’t good enough. Even more shocking (but not amazing to me at all) is that 29% didn’t know either way – almost certainly because they never meet the top wallies.
Although this is an American study conducted in 2013, it reflects exactly my own experiences of working as a communications expert with senior ministerial, COI and departmental staff in the UK from 1985 – 2002. Ministers were by far the worst: debrief them on some focus groups, and they’d listen keenly for any confirmation of their prejudices. The rest would go in one ear and out the other.
Almost always on interrogation, the “policy” was shown to be based on nothing beyond what had played well at Conference, or been dreamed up by some political adviser. Often Ministers were brought into the research process at the last stage, at which point everything changed. Then it was shown to Number Ten, and changed again. During this process, the Sir Humphreys sat quietly observing, and only ever offered an opinion once the wind direction could be overtly seen, heard and felt.
Today, it is my firm belief that only three things will ever get a Government to change course: widespread media criticism, paymaster objections, or social violence. The first two are often the same thing. The last one, however, is usually dismissed by banging up 3000 rioters in two weeks; senior media executives accused of corrupting police and threatening MPs while invading their readers’ privacy take longer, allegedly.
What we’re seeing under the Camerlot Coalition, however, is the start of that which must logically follow “don’t listen” – that is, “Would rather not hear the criticism at all”. Bills to suppress free speech and remove protection from powerful bullies are now all around us. The attempted “McAlpine’s Charter” is one thing, the expanding role of GCHQ is another, gagging social commentary another still. This isn’t governance, it’s the Government Party kicking opposition out of the way.
This flagrant, continuous off-radar campaign by the Conservative Right to tip the playing field further still in their direction would be bad enough without any other factors being involved. But the reality is that this is a Government of stunts and Stalinism. It wants discipline in achieving victory for ideas and administration that are sloppy. HS2 is based on nothing but the PM’s ego, it now transpires. The Big Society has become the Big Sowhat. Privatised supply of services and policy back-up is shown over and over again to be overpriced, uncaring, incompetent and mendacious. Thus in education we see Gove ignoring evidence of poor screening and crooked Higher Education supply, forcing schools onto local communities who neither need nor want them, and rushing through methods based on the back of an envelope in his head somewhere. If opposed, time and again Mr Gove falls back on grubby influence and secret coercion.
Under Stalinism, the Rule of Law becomes an empty claim rather than something fully applied under all circumstances regardless of rank. Not only can Rupert Murdoch threaten police officers on tape and remain immune, gangsters like Boris Johnson will defend him to the hilt…sometimes from the most suspicious of motives. Cronyism becomes the norm (Jeremy Hunt and his £17m bonanza), deceit is seen as a must-have for every senior politician, and every crooked taxi-manufacturer or bankers must be hugged and encouraged.
What precisely is happening here?
I think it’s really very straightforward: an elected State employing supposedly neutral bureaucrats is being stealthily taken over and then replaced by another State using brainless sociopaths and bent civil servants. That new State is being installed with ease on the basis of four obvious strengths: money, power, hopeless legislative Opposition, and the silencing of all socio-media critique of which it disapproves. It is an unelected State based on capital, not a State reflecting any kind of real will of the People. It is promoted, spruced up and spun by unelected, non-dom media owners who also represent monopolist protectionism and care for nothing and nobody else.
That is what’s happening. Regardless of its myriad faults, the BBC is under threat for this reason. The Guardian’s leaks of security service calumny are being vilified for this reason. Leveson and those around him perverted the course of the media enquiry for the same reason. And ditto for easier, low-cost libel suits, the replacement of ASBOs by broader definitions of ‘anti-social’, and a dozen other Bills currently testing the water to check whether the resistance is tepid or hot.
The key players in this transfer of power can be named and enumerated relatively quickly. They are David Cameron, George Osborne, Michael Fallon, Michael Gove, Jeremy Hunt, Grant Shapps, Rupert Murdoch, the Barclay Brothers, Mark Carney, Lord Green, Boris Johnson, Lord Ashcroft, JHJ Lewis, Chris Grayling, GCHQ, ISPs, and the key movers within banking, construction and multinational business.
They don’t listen because they don’t want to know. They crush liberty because they want unregulated license. And they silence opposition because they only thing they like is the sound of their own voice.